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U.S. Home Prices, Sung As Opera

The Case-Shiller home price index is a powerful way to look at the story of housing in America. You can see the boom and bust all in one simple graph.

But when we go on the radio to talk about home prices, a graph isn't much good to us — nobody can see it.

So we converted the Case-Shiller graph into musical notes.

We gave the sheet music to Timothy McDevitt, a baritone who's getting a master's degree at Juilliard. Then we got Karl Case and Robert Shiller — the economists who created the index — to listen to the music weigh in.

Here's what the past decade of housing in America sounds like:

U.S. Home Prices, Sung As Opera

The national song is based on Case-Shiller's 20-city composite. For comparison, we also turned data from a couple U.S. cities into music.

Here's Miami, the city with the biggest boom:

U.S. Home Prices, Sung As Opera

"I could see those towers, those cranes, building those condo buildings on Miami Beach," Case said. "Some of those cranes are still there. They're not building much now."

And here's Dallas:

U.S. Home Prices, Sung As Opera

Shiller said Texas had a big housing boom and bust a few decades ago. That helped the state dodge the latest round of housing mania:

They've been through that, they've seen it, and they're not ready for another bubble, and they just didn't participate in this one. It's like opera: You only have one grand moment when the heroine and the hero die on stage. You can't do that again right away.

Secret bonus track:

Here's the past decade of home prices in America — with both melody and words:

U.S. Home Prices, Sung As Opera

Thanks to Planet Money's Jess Jiang, who figured out how to convert Case-Shiller numbers into musical notes.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.